Various figures in the Conservative Party are calling for Keir Starmer, the Director of Public Prosecutions, to be sacked for defending the Human Rights Act in the Crown Prosecution Service annual lecture. But this ad hominem attack raises the suspicion that it is no more than a means to cover for the inadequacy of Conservative policy.
Various figures in the Conservative Party are calling for Keir Starmer, the Director of Public Prosecutions, to be sacked for defending the Human Rights Act in the Crown Prosecution Service annual lecture. They take the view that expressing these views is impermissible, as too political, for a person appointed as a civil servant.
Looking at the text of Starmer’s speech, this argument appears rather thin. The Conservative Party is not mentioned once and the ‘political’ angle that so angers them looks very much coincidental. It is a corollary of defending the HRA that that defence entails criticism of anyone who would seek to remove it from the statute book. It is simply unfortunate, in more ways than one, that the Conservatives are the people who seek to get rid of the Act.
This ad hominem attack raises the suspicion that it is no more than a means to cover for the inadequacy of Conservative policy. Their arguments on this point tend to be reductive and/or misleading. First, they rely on the xenophobic argument characterised by Starmer as ‘rights stop at the Channel’. Second, they try to deny that innocent people’s lives are profoundly rooted in a culture of respect for human rights – witness David Davies’ comments quoted in the Guardian that:
“We should tear up the Human Rights Act and replace it with something that protects law-abiding citizens from violent criminals. And we should tear up [Starmer’s] contract as well.”
Neither of these arguments stands the test of serious debate, and the Conservatives know it. They rely on smoke and mirrors to convince the public that Human Rights are something to be reviled, so that they can appear to be the party that rides to the rescue – viz. Starmer is out of touch, the public hates the HRA because it only protects criminals against the innocent.
This cynicism was also reflected in the debate on Monday between the Young Labour Lawyers and the Young Conservative Lawyers on whether Britain has a stronger Constitution under Labour. Contrary to expectations of being treated to sharpened arguments to defend what is, quite clearly, a difficult policy to defend (witness Dominic Grieve’s unenviable position) not one serious and coherent argument was presented from the Conservative side. Instead, questions went unanswered. In fact, on occasion they were even brushed aside with jokes along the lines of ‘your suit looks cheap and so you do not deserve the effort of a response’.
These two lines of attack indicate that the Conservatives are cynical in the extreme. They realise that Starmer and the many others who call their policy on the HRA into question are right. They realise that this can only be dealt with by applying the most contemptuous and misleading of tactics, drawing the public’s attention away from the real issues.
Given that we have spotted this cynical approach here, the question then is whether we can trust that the Conservatives are not using the same approach across other policy areas.
Our guest writer is Adam Papaphilippopoulos, a solicitor in London